We like to think of taste as working relatively simply-a sweet taste is recognized as sweet by virtue of activating certain cells on the tongue, and that information is used to drive neurons that cause us to eat more of whatever food is in our mouths. The truth, however, is much more interesting: a taste hits the tongue, and complex circuits in the brain go into action, passing food-related information back and forth as the system as a whole decides whether the morsel is palatable enough to swallow. My lab studies this process by recording from multiple parts of the taste system while active rats are sampling various tastes. Our work allows us to observe this decision-making process in action, as taste cortex reports, in turn, that a taste is on the tongue, that the taste is (say) sugar, and that it the rat) currently likes the taste; this last step appears to be one arrived at suddenly, in a moment o insight-the food rolls around in the rat's mouth for 0.5-1.5 seconds, and then the decision is made. The research that we're currently proposing will study this process. First, we will do a direct, rigorous evaluation of whether the appearance of palatability- related information in cortical neurons actually predicts the behavioral decision in single trials, and testing whether loss of cortical function perturbs the decision process; in a complementary experiment, we will test whether cortical function changes appropriately when one decision is made easier. Finally, we will look at where that information in cortex comes from, by recording from cortex while temporarily silencing other brain areas and pathways proposed to be involved in taste decisions. As a whole, this research project has the potential to completely change the way we think about taste, and to usher in new thinking about perception in general-thinking that makes a great deal more biological sense, given the complexity of brain circuitry.

Public Health Relevance

When a taste is placed on our tongues, we must decide whether to push it to the back of the mouth for swallowing or to the front for ejecting. Correlates of this decision process-recognizing that a taste is on the tongue, identifying that taste, and deciding whether it's palatable or not-are visible in the taste responses of sensory cortical neurons. The novel work in this grant will rigorously test whether these sensory cortical neurons are truly part of the mechanism whereby the rat decides whether to reject or consume a taste, and whether they perform this feat alone or with the help of neurons in other brain regions. The more systemic understanding of taste that will emerge from this research will help us to develop tools to fight a spectrum of eating disorders, to aid parents with child feeding issues, and to cur vexing taste abnormalities such as develop during pregnancy.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Somatosensory and Chemosensory Systems Study Section (SCS)
Program Officer
Sullivan, Susan L
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Brandeis University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Flores, Veronica L; Parmet, Tamar; Mukherjee, Narendra et al. (2018) The role of the gustatory cortex in incidental experience-evoked enhancement of later taste learning. Learn Mem 25:587-600
Flores, Veronica L; Moran, Anan; Bernstein, Max et al. (2016) Preexposure to salty and sour taste enhances conditioned taste aversion to novel sucrose. Learn Mem 23:221-8
Baez-Santiago, Madelyn A; Reid, Emily E; Moran, Anan et al. (2016) Dynamic taste responses of parabrachial pontine neurons in awake rats. J Neurophysiol 115:1314-23
Sadacca, Brian F; Mukherjee, Narendra; Vladusich, Tony et al. (2016) The Behavioral Relevance of Cortical Neural Ensemble Responses Emerges Suddenly. J Neurosci 36:655-69
Li, Jennifer X; Maier, Joost X; Reid, Emily E et al. (2016) Sensory Cortical Activity Is Related to the Selection of a Rhythmic Motor Action Pattern. J Neurosci 36:5596-607
Maier, Joost X; Blankenship, Meredith L; Li, Jennifer X et al. (2015) A Multisensory Network for Olfactory Processing. Curr Biol 25:2642-50
Moran, Anan; Katz, Donald B (2014) Sensory cortical population dynamics uniquely track behavior across learning and extinction. J Neurosci 34:1248-57
Pavão, Rodrigo; Piette, Caitlin E; Lopes-dos-Santos, Vítor et al. (2014) Local field potentials in the gustatory cortex carry taste information. J Neurosci 34:8778-87
Maier, Joost X; Blankenship, Meredith L; Barry, Nicholas C et al. (2014) Stability and flexibility of the message carried by semiochemical stimuli, as revealed by devaluation of carbon disulfide followed by social transmission of food preference. Behav Neurosci 128:413-8
Monk, Kevin J; Rubin, Benjamin D; Keene, Jennifer C et al. (2014) Licking microstructure reveals rapid attenuation of neophobia. Chem Senses 39:203-13

Showing the most recent 10 out of 28 publications